Tag Archives: David Gulpilil

Walkabout (1971)

walkabout 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost in the outback.

A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, but billed as Lucien John) find themselves trapped amidst the harsh climate of the Australian outback. After spending a couple of days walking in the heat they manage to come upon a watering hole, but find to their horror that it dries up overnight. Feeling almost ready to give up they spot an aborigine (David Gulpilil in his film debut) marauding through the desert as part of his walkabout where young men are cast off into the wilderness for several months as part of their journey to manhood. He helps find them water, food and shelter, but eventually the cultural differences between the three and their inability to effectively communicate become a problem.

The legendary Nicholas Roeg makes his directorial debut here and even casts his own son, who is excellent, as the 9-year-old boy.  The way the camera captures the desert by focusing on the different types of animal life and rock formations is impressive.  I also enjoyed the editing which cuts back and forth between the desert and modern civilization while examining how each are uniquely connected and commenting on how our advanced culture has made us regress and less able to survive the savage elements that our ancestors were able to.

There are also scenes of animal cruelty as the aborigine hunts a kangaroo by first injuring him and then, as the animal gives out a whimpering cry, he spears it. Later the viewer is shown scenes involving big game hunters who mow down water buffalo for sport while graphically slitting their throats.

The film was controversial for capturing Agutter, who was only 17 at the time that this was filmed, in the nude while swimming at a watering hole. The actress felt uncomfortable doing the scene and required only the minimum of the crew to be present while it was shot. To me the scene was unnecessary as it didn’t fit the character who was prim and proper and didn’t at all come off like the type of person who would suddenly become carefree and risk being spotted by the aborigine that she really didn’t know or the ‘embarrassment’ of being seen by her younger brother. The camera stays on her naked body far longer than needed and comes off like shameless voyeurism.

I had the same issue with the scene involving researchers at a weather station that resembles footage to a soft core porn flick instead as the men ogle the only woman in their group, become overtly aroused at glimpses of her bosom and in one truly absurd moment even has one of the them sucking on her finger. I realize scientists have sex drives too, but I would think they would be able to behave in a professional capacity when on the job and not act like they hadn’t gotten laid in years and like with the swimming sequence this scene has nothing to do with the main story and could’ve been cut out completely.

The presence of the radio weakens the story as well as supposedly they’re in the middle of nowhere and miles from civilization and yet somehow are able to pick up different radio stations that come in crystal clear without any static, which would mean that they must be much closer to a city than it seems and thus hurts the desolate feeling that the film otherwise tries hard to create.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is based on a 1959 novel of the same name that was written by Donald Gordon Payne under the pseudonym of James Vance Marshall. The script though differs from the book in two major ways, one of which I liked and the other I didn’t.

The first difference involves the reason for how the two children get stranded. In the book they are victims of a plane crash, but in the film it is because their father tries to kill them, which is offbeat and sends the message that this movie will be different from any you’ve seen before, which I liked. Normally I would’ve wanted an explanation for his behavior, but by keeping it a mystery it elevates the intrigue and if anything was a far more creative explanation for their predicament than the formulaic plane crash one.

However, the way the aborigine dies is ludicrous. In the book he is stricken with the flu virus that was inadvertently passed onto him by the boy, but in the movie he ends up killing himself when the girl does not respond to his attempts at courtship, which seemed excessively rash.

Rejection is a part of the human experience and transcends all cultures. Everyone will have to deal with it at some point in their lives. If everyone killed themselves the minute they are rebuffed by someone they were attracted to then virtually no one on would make it past adolescence. The idea that a normal, healthy and otherwise happy young man with no signs of mental illness, and the film does not show him as having any so we must assume that he doesn’t, would suddenly off himself over a girl he has just met and barely knew is absurd. In reality he probably would’ve just gotten frustrated and left them stranded while going back to his own tribe where I presume he’d meet other women who he’d bond better with due to being more culturally connected and most likely would’ve found more attractive anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Last Wave (1977)

last wave 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suffering from strange premonitions.

David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is a lawyer working in Sydney, Australia who is hired to defend some aborigines that have been accused of murder. David’s specialty is taxation law and he feels overwhelmed in this new role, but still takes it on with an earnest dedication, but in the process begins to experience strange dreams and even sees one of his clients, Chris (David Gulpilil), in them. This coincides with weird weather events that begin occurring all over the continent including the phenomena of black rain. David can’t help but feel that somehow this is all connected and after doing extensive research finds that tribal aborigines have a belief system involving what they call dreamtime in which spirits from another world communicate with us through our dreams and David has been the chosen recipient due to his lifelong ability to dream of events in his sleep that eventually occur later in real-life.

The film, which is directed by the gifted Peter Weir, has terrific imagery that almost makes-up for its other shortcomings. There have been a lot of movies that have tried to create creepy nightmare segments, but the ones here work much better than most and gave this viewer an effectively spooking feeling. The silhouette of the aborigines in the pouring rain, the shots of a large seismic wave and use of tribal music all get used to ultimate effect. Even the rain storms become fascinating to watch. None of them were actual ones, but instead large firehoses were employed along with giant fans to create a sort-of surreal stormy effect that actually looked better than the real thing.

The story though borders on being convoluted and would’ve worked better had the movie been given a longer runtime. The first hour is spent with the viewer seeing a lot of strange events that make no sense and are given no explanation. It is only after about an hour in that some expert, who’s given no formal distinction to what their line of study is or degree, explains to David the importance that dreams have to the aborigine culture, which helps tie things together, but this should’ve occurred earlier as some viewers will probably find it too confusing and off-putting otherwise.

Chamberlain is his usual bland self, but okay in this type of role as it doesn’t demand anyone who is colorful. The character though is supposed to be this very pragmatic individual, but he seemed to buy into the mystical qualities of the aborigine belief system much too quickly. A person with a practical approach to life would most likely be quite cynical to the events as they first occurred and even reluctant to base any value on his own nightmares, at least initially.

The ending is a major letdown. For one thing we have the main character inside an ancient sacred site beneath a sewer system where he suddenly has to start ‘thinking out loud’ by explaining what he is seeing on the drawings along the wall even though the viewer could’ve figured this out for themselves without the ‘narration’. The ambiguous conclusion is frustrating and makes sitting through the rest of it feel like a big waste of time.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: Cinema International Corporation

Available: DVD (Criterion), Blu-ray (Reg. B), Amazon Instant Video